Some fans can grow impatient with their teams’ lack of offseason activity.
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For A’s followers, the moves have come so rapidly that the challenge is simply keeping track of who’s come and gone. With that in mind, here’s a recap of the team’s moves over the past two weeks, along with some thoughts on what they mean in the big picture:
Dec. 2, signed free agent LHP Scott Kazmir: This deal became official two days later, but the agreement to give the left-hander a two-year $22 million contract set in motion Transaction Mania in Oakland. Given the money involved and the risk/reward element, this move might be dissected and analyzed more than any of the others below. The A’s needed to add a veteran starter as it became clear that Bartolo Colon wouldn’t return. They went hard after Kazmir and gave him the largest free agent deal in franchise history for a starter.
Kazmir will fill an important role in anchoring the rotation alongside promising young right-handers Jarrod Parker and Sonny Gray. The lefty breathed new life into his career last season with Cleveland, after prolonged struggles with his mechanics knocked him out of the majors for most of 2011 and 2012. He went 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA last season, numbers that wouldn’t seem to warrant such a lucrative contract. But Kazmir’s fastball regained its zip, and he showed signs of returning to the form that made him a two-time All-Star with Tampa Bay. He’ll be just 30 next season, suggesting he’s got plenty of good years left. But it’s noteworthy that the Indians found it necessary to give him extra rest between starts around the midway point of last season, and they weren’t willing to offer him more than a one-year deal to return.
Dec. 2, traded 2B Jemile Weeks and C David Freitas to Baltimore for closer Jim Johnson: The A’s got aggressive in importing a ninth-inning replacement for Grant Balfour. Johnson’s 101 saves lead the majors over the past two seasons. This was another costly acquisition, as Johnson’s 2014 salary figures to approach $11 million through arbitration. He can become a free agent after the season. A’s manager Bob Melvin said he would have had considerable confidence in either Ryan Cook or Sean Doolittle handling closer duties, but Johnson’s addition keeps both relievers in their setup roles, and that makes this a very deep and impressive bullpen.
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Weeks, the A’s first-round pick from 2008, burst on the scene in 2011 and appeared to be the team’s brightest star moving forward. But he struggled for most of 2012 and wound up back in Triple-A. He never got back in the team’s plans. Freitas split last season between Double-A and Triple-A but was not knocking on the door to the bigs. Right now it appears the biggest risk in this deal isn’t the players the A’s gave up, but the financial burden they take on with Johnson.
Dec. 3, traded OF Michael Choice and IF Chris Bostick to Texas for OF Craig Gentry and RHP Josh Lindblom: The A’s were just getting started with the above deals. They traded with their biggest A.L. West threat to acquire Gentry, one of the majors’ fastest players and someone who provides an excellent defensive and base-running option off the bench. But the A’s parted with quite a talent in Choice, their 2010 first-round pick. Of all the players the A’s dealt in these moves, Choice – with his power and speed -- seems the one who could really blossom into something special.
Lindblom, 26, is an under-the-radar acquisition who could prove important. The A’s always seem to have six or seven major league-ready starters who can step into the big league rotation if needed. They feel they’ve added starting depth with Lindblom, one of the reasons they felt comfortable dealing Brett Anderson.
Dec. 3, traded OF Seth Smith to San Diego for RHP Luke Gregerson: Just when you thought it was safe to walk away from your Twitter feed, the A’s followed up the Gentry/Choice trade by acquiring another late-inning reliever in Gregerson. This move looks good for Oakland from the standpoint that Smith didn’t have a defined role on this team. He hit .253 with eight homers last season and played in just 117 games (though he did homer in the A.L.D.S. against Detroit).
Gregerson, 29, was generally regarded as one of the National League’s top setup men. He’s posted a 2.88 ERA over five major league seasons and averaged 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings. He strengthens what was already a solid bullpen and gives Melvin another late-inning option -- along with Cook, Doolittle and Dan Otero – to get the ball to Johnson. Gregerson can become a free agent after next season, and his 2014 salary will be comparable to Smith’s. Both should make between $4 million and $5 million through arbitration.
Dec. 10, traded LHP Brett Anderson and cash to Colorado for LHP Drew Pomeranz and RHP Chris Jensen: Time will tell how this deal pans out for the A’s. Will Anderson finally shed his injury problems and become a dominant lefty for the Rockies? Can Pomeranz tap into his potential and become the kind of force for the A’s that he never was with Colorado? In an indirect way, Kazmir’s performance also is tied to this trade. If Kazmir is an effective starter every fifth day, it will further justify the A’s decision to trade Anderson.
How things change. In 2010, Oakland gave Anderson a four-year $12.5 million deal, identifying him as a building block for this team moving forward. But injuries – most notably reconstructive elbow surgery that wiped out much of his 2011 and 2012 seasons – kept Anderson from growing roots in the rotation. Pomeranz, 25, was the fifth overall pick, by Cleveland, in the 2010 draft but has found the going rough so far in the majors. It’s not out of the question he lands in the A’s bullpen this season, but team officials want him to establish himself as a starter. Chances are, he begins the season with Triple-A Sacramento.
Dec. 11, traded LHP Jerry Blevins to Washington for OF Billy Burns: The A’s dealt from their bullpen surplus and shipped Blevins to the Nationals for Burns, a speedy center fielder who was the Nats’ 2013 minor league player of the year. Blevins became a reliable middle reliever since debuting with the A’s in 2007. He also served as the team’s union representative and was a bullpen leader. His trade signals that the A’s expect lefty Fernando Abad, acquired from Washington earlier in the offseason, to establish himself in a middle relief role. It could also mean an opportunity for lefty Pedro Figueroa, who has made 24 appearances with Oakland over the past two seasons.
Burns, 24, was rated by Baseball America as the fastest base runner and the hitter with the best strike zone discipline in Washington’s farm system. He reached Double-A last season and hit .315 with 74 stolen bases between Single-A and Double-A.